Many of us have dreams to study abroad. And take my words, if you want to pursue this dream of yours, without any doubt its going to be an incredible journey, a life changing experience all together. US universities offer a variety of different courses that perfectly suit your needs. Their degrees are valued all over the planet. In addition to that there are ample scope of finding the right career choice for yourself because you will have the access to the latest and cutting edge technologies and research all over the world.

If you are planning to study abroad, specially do a degree from US , then definitely you need to start planning at least a year before. My suggestions make it 12-18 months. In US generally all the universities have 2 major semesters - Fall (Aug -Dec) and Spring (Jan - May). From May - Aug its the Summer semester and most universities give you the flexibility to either take a break or do an internships or take classes during this time. Most students from India join the universities during the Fall semester, but there is no harm if you want to join during the Spring semester.

So first and foremost if you have decided that you want to explore this opportunity , think again. I don't want you guys to be afraid and stop pursuing this. Its just a word of caution from my end as someone who has already gone through all of this. You need to be very strong. Every step requires hard work and perseverance. You need to be well prepared to handle all the situations. And more importantly getting into a  good university is NOT ALL. The actual struggle begins after that. So be mentally and physically prepared to handle everything.

Now, since you have already taken your decision and you want this awesome thing to happen in your life, lets come to the point. In the planning phase which is around 12 -18 months before your anticipated term starts, you need to figure out your own answers to the top 3 things below and you need to be acquainted with all the stuff that needs to be done.

  • What do you want to study?

Well planning here doesn't mean it has to be long term. Life changes, new things keep on happening. But you need to aim at something. So as of now figure out what you want to study i.e your course of interest say computer science or electronics or architecture... Now decide whether you want to apply for a PhD or an MS. The application and selection criteria for MS and PhD are pretty different, so you need to make sure what your resume is best suitable for. Also it depends a lot on what you want to do , if you want to work in the industry, then MS is your best choice. Its short, takes about 2 years and you will find a lot of job opportunities. But if you want to pursue a career in research and spend about 4-6 years in the degree program, you can opt for PhD.

However in the middle of a degree program, if you want, you can obviously change your course as well as your degree. So don't over stress yourself trying to take the perfect decision right now. In US, you can change your university, your course and your degree program at any point of time.

Make a decision which is best suitable for you as of now and start working on building an effective resume.

  • When do you want to start you classes?

The next important decision is when do you plan to start your classes - Fall or Spring. For some universities and some degree programs, the classes start from Summer, so you need to be aware of that as well. If your course falls into that category , look it up in the college website and prepare your timelines accordingly. It takes minimum 14 months to prepare yourself, complete the application process, travel to US and finally start your classes.

The deadlines are very strict and missing them could lead to catastrophic disasters. Ensure that your complete application including your transcript, exam scores, letter of recommendations and Statement of Purpose along with the full application fees, reaches the college at least one week before the deadline. There are plenty of work that needs to be done before submitting your final application and every application needs to be tailor made, so keep aside ample time to finish the application process.

  • How much can you afford to spend ?

Ahhh...I know this is the most important thing and probably holds back a lot of people from chasing their dreams. I come from a middle class Indian family too and I am well aware of all the troubles we need to go through to arrange the finances.

Plan your budget and this is very important at this phase.You need to show a proof of your finances which would cover 1 year of all of your expenses (school fees + medical insurance + living cost) to the college during the application process as well as during the visa interview. This amount varies with the colleges you are applying to depending on whether it is a public or a private university. This is known as the I-20 amount and is always available in the college website. Always look  for the ones specific to your course in the university website, different course programs have different expenditures like business degrees will definitely cost you more that the general MS degrees.

Depending on your budget you should select your universities as well as your degree programs. Your living expenses will also vary a lot depending on the location of your college.Though sponsorship and part time jobs are available, but you cannot depend entirely on them. If you are an MS student, sponsorship funding is very limited. Colleges tend to provide funding to the PhDs first and then the remaining to the masters students. The part time jobs do not pay enough to pay your school fees, but if you have a steady part time job it will be enough to cover your living expenses. Moreover, being an MS student getting a steady part time job or a sponsorship depends a lot on your fate also !!!

In addition to your course fees and living expenses in the US, do not forget there will also be a lot of immediate expenses due to the entrance exams like TOEFL and GRE, college applications, visa process and air tickets.

There are a lot of organizations and banks that offer student loans. This is the perfect time to start gathering information regarding which banks suit your needs.

If you are unable to show a complete proof of your finances, there is a very high chance that your visa and your selection to your desired university could get rejected. So take extra care to plan your budget, a lot depends on this.

Once you have figured out the answers to these top 3 most important things, its time you move on to the next steps in the process.

Now you need to start listing down the colleges of your choice and also start preparing for the entrance exams like GRE and TOEFL. Some colleges have specific exam and marks requirement, make sure to check them in the college websites.

With all the information that you have gathered so far, prepare a list of all the universities that you want to apply to and also the degree programs offered by them along with the corresponding I-20 amounts. Its very important that you have your own customized list. At this point of time you should have at least 25-30 colleges in your list. Once you dig deeper into the process it will shorten down to less than 10!!!

So don't waste anymore time, go ahead and start preparing your list ...




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